Creating Fictional Criminals

Since I write mysteries, I need to set up each book with a criminal element to give my heroine, Corrie Locke, something to do; something to look forward to doing, in her case. She thrives on cleaning up the streets of Southern California, one criminal (sometimes more) at a time. And she’s got the skills, plus the weapons, to do it. How do I create my felons?

Sometimes, it’s as easy as reading a news story to help fashion the outline of a wicked doer. Other times, the felon slips in when I’m looking elsewhere.

In the first installment of my Southern California Mystery series, I wasn’t sure who the bad guy/girl was. I pressed on right beside Corrie to find the killer’s identity. And boy was I surprised! That’s because the felon acted pretty normal when he/she mingled with the rest of the book’s characters. Clues were tossed around, but innocent bystanders also misbehaved at times, so I couldn’t be sure who the culprit was until the very end.

How to make Fictional, villainous characters appear real? By giving them:

Motive – Villains are people typically motivated to do bad things because of their particular circumstance. The motivation could be a thirst for greed or power (as in my first book). Maybe they’re killers for hire (like the bargain basement hitman in MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING) or maybe they need to exact revenge (a popular motive that appeared in MURDER GONE MISSING).

Personality – Villains need character traits and jobs. A villain could be a janitor, a student, a doctor, a college dean or an amusement park character with all the trappings. They look and dress a certain way, have favorite foods and maybe even a pet.

Willingness to Help – I’m always a little surprised to find that villains can be helpful. They are capable of doing almost anything to throw the scent off their actual plans. And sometimes, down, deep, deep inside, they’re not all that bad. And that helps throw the reader off track.

The goal is to play hide and go seek with the reader. Hide the villain and keep the reader guessing. And in my case, sometimes, keep the writer guessing, too.

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